About Us

The concept of creating a curricular and co-curricular leadership development program for WWU students came from administrative and staff leaders in the Enrollment and Student Services Division (then known as “Student Affairs”). President Emeritus Karen W. Morse supported these efforts. Their innovative vision was to create a university-wide leadership development program unlike any other in the nation.

But it wasn’t until Jack and Jo Ann Bowman endowed the Bowman Distinguished Professor of Leadership, in combination with major support for the creation of the Institute from David and Denise Cole and Rick and Sylvia Haggen, that this programmatic dream could become reality. The Morse Leadership Institute (MLI) was created in September 2009 and named in honor of WWU President Emeritus Karen Morse.

The mission of MLI is to develop graduates who can exercise responsible, ethical, and inclusive leadership in their chosen careers and communities. Whether it is for students minoring in Leadership Studies or students engaged more broadly in leadership activities across campus, the MLI wants to create leaders who embody the notion of “Active Minds, Changing Lives” in our global society.

The $1 million gift from Jack and Jo Ann Bowman endowed the Bowman Distinguished Professorship in Leadership. The faculty member in this position is dedicated to curricular innovation, teaching, and scholarship that advances the understanding and application of leadership.

“We were just very happy that we were able to pay back a little of what Western had done for us,” said Jack Bowman, a Western alumnus. “When we heard that Karen Morse was involved with the leadership program, we thought what better way to do something for Western and at the same time something that would be identified with Karen.”

“We have no shortage of bright students at Western,” he said. “But this program will help generate a new generation of students who won’t just be ready to follow, they’ll be ready to lead.”

Who is Karen W. Morse?

Karen W. Morse served as Western Washington University President from August 1993 to August 2008 and was the first woman president at WWU. “She is one of many women who mounted college presidencies in the latter decades of the twentieth century, and she, among a number of those woman leaders, came to her post with a significant background in the sciences” (Nelson 132). During her tenure, a number of new campus facilities were built including the Student Recreation Center, the Communications Facility, the Academic Instructional Center and the Campus Services Building. Morse is also credited with improving the school’s student-faculty ratio through her leadership. “Over the course of her 15-year tenure as president, Karen Morse led Western through a period of tremendous growth – of the campus, the faculty and the student body – while elevating its national reputation, setting the university on a trajectory to realize its present and future strengths,” said Peggy Zoro, previous chair of WWU’s board of trustees (BBJ Today). Morse will be remembered for her strong, focused leadership but also for her vision of a collaborative community where education always comes first (Cocke 6).


Nelson, Stephen James. College Presidents Reflect: Life in and out of the Ivory Tower. R&L Education, 2013. Print.

“WWU Renames Building after Former President Karen Morse.” BBJ Today. 20 Dec. 2012. Web. 04 May 2016.

Cocke, Paul. “Karen W. Morse Gave Students a Lift.” Window on Western. 2008. Web. <http://www.wwu.edu/leadership/morse/documents/WindowsSpring2008.pdf>.